Harrisburg — Recent years have been some of the best on record for Pennsylvania bear hunting, and the seasons now under way promise the same, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s bruin expert.
Statewide archery bear season opened Monday, Nov. 18. And after that five-day season comes to a close on Nov. 22, hunters can participate in the four-day general bear season that opens Saturday, Nov. 23, then runs from Monday, Nov. 25 to Wednesday, Nov. 27.
There's been plenty of reason to get excited about bear hunting in recent years.
The 2012 harvest of 3,632 bears statewide represents the third-largest in state history. And last year’s take follows an all-time record harvest of 4,350 bears set in 2011.
A growing bear population – which now numbers 16,000 to 18,000 according to the Game Commission – and expanded hunting opportunities in recent years have contributed to the large harvests.
The combination has helped to create a sweet spot in time for in-state bear hunting, said Mark Ternent, bear biologist for the agency.
“In Pennsylvania’s history, there’s never been a better time to hunt bears,” he said. “Nowadays it’s getting increasingly harder to identify our so-called best bear-hunting counties, because opportunities are becoming increasingly better throughout so much of the state.”
In 2012, for example, hunters harvested bears in 56 of the state’s 67 counties, and Pennsylvania routinely has been seeing harvests in 50 counties or more.
Bear-hunting success across the state is something Ternent said simply wasn’t possible 30 years ago, when bear populations were more concentrated in core areas of northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania.
And this expanded range has many Pennsylvanians reclassifying what they consider “bear country” and where they might choose to hunt.
“It’s not a case where there are only a few areas where a hunter might get close to a bear,” Ternent said. “That opportunity exists throughout much of the state, and in areas some might not expect.”
To suppress conflicts that might arise from bear populations expanding into more inhabited parts of the state, according to Ternent, an extended bear season exists in a handful of wildlife management units.
In units 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D, bear season is open concurrent to the archery, early muzzleloader and firearms deer seasons. And hunters in other units also have a limited opportunity to harvest a bear during portions of the upcoming firearms deer season. Those areas include units 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E.
A complete list of opening and closing days can be found on Page 36 of the 2013-14 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters when they purchase their licenses, or at the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us.
Ternent noted that bear hunters up their chances of success by hunting near available food sources, and with a spotty acorn crop this year, preseason scouting might make the difference. Locating acorns might result in finding a bear nearby, he pointed out.
“Hunters might need to do more homework than usual this year,” Ternent warned. “Bears will shift around to find food, and those hunters who scout for areas with better foods, whether it’s acorns, beechnuts, black cherry or agricultural fields, will have an advantage.”
That doesn’t mean the hunter who heads to his usual spot won’t find bear sign, Ternent explained. “He just might see more or less of it depending on the local food conditions.”
Still, Ternent said there's no reason to believe 2013 doesn’t hold the potential for another record harvest.
Among other factors, the bear harvest is driven by the number of bears and the number of bear hunters, and both appear to be up this year, he said. The weather during the season will play a crucial role in determining the harvest.
For those taking part in the bear seasons, the opportunity exists to harvest a truly large bear. Last year’s harvest included 45 bears weighing 500 pounds or more, five that surpassed the 600-pound mark, and the heaviest bear overall – harvested in Monroe County – weighed 709 pounds.
Ternent confirmed also that bears weighing in excess of 800 pounds continue to roam Pennsylvania’s wilds.
“There’s a lot of rich tradition tied to bear hunting in Pennsylvania, and the upcoming seasons hold a lot of promise,” Ternent said. “While predicting the harvest is tricky business, it’s always a safe bet to say that a number of hunters will experience the thrill of a lifetime in the coming weeks.”